Defense cuts may be on the table in a new fiscal-cliff deal, as the deadline to avoid sequestration is just weeks away. National Journal's National Security Insiders say: Go for it.
A whopping 80 percent of Insiders said the defense budget, over the next decade, could be reasonably reduced by more than $100 billion. The biggest faction of Insiders, 35 percent, supported cuts between $100 billion and $300 billion.
"With the operation in Afghanistan winding down, the Pentagon could likely absorb another $100 [billion] to $300 billion with minimal pain," one Insider said. Another added: "Despite all the rhetoric, everyone knows we are in difficult times and have worldwide commitments. The cuts will come but mostly through lowering of per year growth and savings on deployment."
The Pentagon has already agreed to trim $450 billion over the next decade and is working to implement those reductions. Sequestration, should Congress and the White House fail to compromise on the deficit, would slash another half-trillion dollars from defense accounts--but cut every line-item within the Pentagon budget equally. One past proposal to find savings and avoid sequestration from the White House included $100 billion in additional defense cuts--but Insiders say the military budget could safely absorb more.
Twenty-four percent of Insiders believe the $500 billion figure, at the level sequestration would gouge, is not doomsday: The mechanism of cutting is. "There is significant post-9/11 bloat that still needs to be addressed and significant force structure and numerous platforms that could be reduced to achieve significant savings," one Insider said. "Sequestration's across-the-board cuts aren't an intelligent way of cutting, but [an annual cut] would yield the same results from a budgetary standpoint without the self-inflicted wounds across the board cuts will cause."
More than $500 billion in reductions would make the decline in defense spending "one of the most shallow drawdowns in Pentagon history," another Insider added.
On Mali, 83 percent of security Insiders said the U.S. should only have a limited involvement in the campaign against al-Qaida-linked militants there. Equal 8.5 percent factions supported Washington in a leadership role--and having no involvement.
"The United Nations-endorsed actions under French leadership deserve U.S. support," one Insider said. "There are support requirements that can be met only by the U.S., and it is in our interests to root out the militants in Mali and to have the French lead this effort successfully."
Success will be "impossible to achieve" in Mali, one Insider said, without U.S. logistical and intelligence support. "We should provide all the logistical and intelligence support the French request, as well as sell them spare parts and other equipment as they require. The French recognize that Mali poses a threat to them and Europe; we should support our NATO allies if we want them to support us."
1. More defense cuts may be on the table in a fiscal-cliff deal. How much can be reasonably cut over the next decade?
- $0-$100 billion 19%
- $101-300 billion 35%
- $301-500 billion 21%
- More than $500 billion 24%
"We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to health of the force issues after 10 years of war. And assuming the troops are in garrison, that is going to make these already existing problems worse, not better. If we punt on these costs (e.g., depression, suicide, resiliency training), we break one of our most sacred responsibilities--to take care of those who protected us."
"Percentage of GDP would be a better measure. A decrement from an existing level is confusing, and the amounts discussed are aggregated over several years. That said, $0-100 billion."
"Any cuts should come from long-standing 'untouchables' such as personnel benefits--which should be applied to new entrants into the force, DOD civilians, and contractors who do the work that civilians should be doing."
"On top of cuts already programmed ... and only if DOD can decide where to take them. No across-all-programs cuts."
"Of course this presupposes that we are not drawn into a 'surprise' conflict in the next 10 years. Given the drawdown in Afghanistan and the previous drawdown in Iraq, it's reasonable to cut some military expenditures. What the Pentagon needs to do, though, is engage in meaningful acquisition reforms that result in the more rapid fielding of needed capabilities and an enhanced discipline in the levying of requirements for weapons systems. There will also be lots of pressure to look at military retirement pay and other benefits, but we have to be careful here if we want to preserve the all-volunteer force's ability to access the nation's talent."
"A threat-based defense strategy is urgently needed. If most likely threats are cyber or biological attacks on the homeland, we are spending too much for the wrong capabilities. Cold War capabilities are expensive and mostly ineffective against evolving threats."
"Cuts in the DOD budget must be accompanied by greater cooperation/collaboration with partners and allies--and this means State must have the necessary resources to build those ties. In any case, State is always cheaper than DOD--it just creates any jobs in congressional districts."
"We are still at the front end of a postwar defense drawdown."
"We're rapidly approaching the point at which the U.S. military will need an actual national grand strategy to guide it, instead of continuing to resource almost all possible strategies as it does today. Unfortunately, that requires our political leadership to make difficult decisions, and we all know how that's been going lately."
"The Pentagon has had a hard time executing significant budget increases over the years. A sizable decrease, with congressional 'involvement,' will be twice as hard."
"If DOD does it the right way. All indicators are that their leaders will not, however."
"DOD can cut 10 percent, but the timing and sequence of cuts need to change. The current process would cut too deeply into the investment accounts and the defense industrial base in order to preserve force structure and overhead that is not needed for the long run.We are in an interwar era, and large defense cuts are inevitable. What should not be on the chopping block, however, are cuts in professional military education. In this era, it is far more important for our nation's officers to think than it is to provide them with a large number of new weapons or to maintain large standing forces."
More than $500 billion
"Politics will force cuts much below $500 billion (less than a 10 percent reduction). Polls show Americans are comfortable with less defense; Republican support is softening; the U.S. may be willing to live with Iranian nuclear weapons rather than go to war; for many years China will pose no military threat on the high seas that the U.S. cannot counter; and DOD can do a lot more streamlining, e.g., combine NORTHCOM/SOUTHCOM, recombine EUCOM/AFRICOM."
"Are we trying to protect Americans or run the world? Although it would be better to rethink strategy and cut accordingly, the only way to force a serious strategic rethink may be to cut spending a lot and allow that to force policymakers and military brass to rethink what we need to do in the world."
"The U.S. could make massive defense cuts and still outspend our nearest rivals."
"The U.S. military budget accounts for approximately 40 percent of global arms spending. The 2012 budget is six to seven times larger than the $106 billion of the military budget of China and is more than the next 20 largest military spenders combined. It's not 'Obamacare' but Pentagon-care that's driving the U.S. bankrupt."
"Given the starting point, it is hard to imagine any unmet need even with cuts of this size."
2. The U.S. military should have ______ in the campaign against Qaida-linked militants in Mali.
- No involvement 8.5%
- Limited involvement 83%
- Limited involvement 8.5%
"The French and the Malians should have the lead; their interests are most directly at stake. We should support enthusiastically, but no boots on the ground."
"Limited but focused and committed. With clear and sustained USG attention."
"France knows what needs to be done. Provide Paris with both diplomatic and military support as requested."
"Providing targeting support to French air forces is imperative."
"The Mali AO is almost exactly the same size as Afghanistan. Maybe this is God's way of trying to teach us something."
"Technical and intelligence support but no boots on the ground; let's let someone else grow their budget deficit for a change."
"Let's see how well France and ECOWAS can do against the rebels in Mali. We should provide our partners with significant logistical and intelligence support. But, should France and ECOWAS fail, we may find ourselves in another conflict, once again in a place few have ever heard of."
"We should support France and be thankful that another nation is stepping up to the plate in the war against al-Qaida."
"Once again, NATO countries have proven incapable of conducting even basic military operations without significant U.S. assistance."
"As with unstable parts of the Balkans where the Europeans have led since the Kosovo war, Libya where France and the U.K. led, and Syria where Turkey leads, Mali is another place where the Europeans, especially France, should lead and are doing so. The Europeans will not increase defense spending, and the U.S. will not divest itself of the free-rider problem, unless the Europeans act more often like great powers. We are blessed with great allies, and they are increasingly stepping up to the plate."
"Until somebody here can take a run at the Powell/Weinberger Doctrine questions, it's irresponsible for us to stick our snouts in. Plus, Europe ought to have to consider one small mission on their own every once in a while, just to remind them how much they've let their militaries atrophy."
A leadership role
"A global war on terror is a 'global' war on terror. This is our job, and we have an AFRICOM to do it. The French and African countries have limited capabilities [compared with] the U.S. [when it comes to] surveillance and tracking. Even in our budgetary flux, we have more resources available than all of them put together."
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign policy experts. They include:
Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel “Sandy” Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Lorne Craner, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Justin Logan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ronald Marks, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.
This article appears in the January 22, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.